Thursday, October 21, 2010

Some Selections from Cicero's De Officiis (On Duties)

Beneficence and liberality:

Let me now, as I propossed, speak of beneficence and liberality, virtues that are the most agreeable to the nature of man, but which involve many precautionary considerations. For, in the first place, we are to take care lest our kindness should hurt both those whom it is meant to assist, and others. In the next place, it ought not to exceed our abilities; and it ought to be rendered to each in proportion to his worth. This is the fundamental standard of justice to which all these things should be referred. For they who do kindnesses which prove of disservice to the person they pretend to oblige, should not be esteemed beneficent nor generous, but injurious sycophants. And they who injure one party in order to be liberal to another, are guilty of the same dishonesty as if they should appropriate to themselves what belongs to another. (Offices I, xiv, p. 25)

Administration of government:

All who hope to rise in a state ought strictly to observe two rules of Plato. The first is, that they so keep in view the advantage of their fellow-citizens as to have reference to it in whatever they do, regardless of their individual interest. The second is, that their cares be applied to the whole of the state, lest while they are cherishing one part they abandon the others. For the adminsitration of government, like a guardianship, ought to be directed to the good of those who confer, and not of those who receive the trust. Now, they who consult the interests of one part of a community and neglect another, introduce into the state the greatest of all evils, sedition and discord. (Offices, I, xxv, p.44)


Neither is it foreign to my purpose to touch upon the duties of magistrates, of private citizens, and of strangers. It is then the peculiar duty of a magistrate to bear in mind that he represents the state, and that he ought, therefore, to maintain its dignity and glory, to preserve its constitution, to act by its laws, and to remember that these things are committed to his fidelity. (Offices, I, xxxiv, p. 61)

Knowledge and protecting rights:

...For the knowledge and contemplation of nature is in a manner lame and unfinished, if it is followed by no activity; now activity is most perspicuous when it is exerted in protecting the rights of mankind.

It therefore has reference to the social interests of the human race, and is for that reason preferable to knowledge; and this every virtuous man maintains and exhibits in practice. For who is so eager in pursuing and examining the nature of things, that if, while he is handling and contemplating the noblest objects of knowledge, the peril and crisis of his country is made known to him, and that it is in his power to assist and relieve her, whould not intantly abandon and fling from him all those studies, even though he would be enabled to number the stars, or measure the dimensions of the world? And he would to the same were the safety of a friend or a parent concerned or endangered. From this consideration I infer, that the duties of justice are preferable to the studies and duties of knowledge, relating as they do to the interests of the human race, to which no anterior consideration ought to exist in the mind of man. (Offices I, xliii, p. 72)

Discourse versus thought:

Nor do those philosophers only instruct and educate those who are desirous of learning while alive and present among us; but they continue to do the same after death, by the monuments of their learning; for they neglect no point that relates to the constitution, the manners and the morals of their country; so that it appears as if they had dedicated all thir leisure to our advantage. Thus while they are themselves devoted to the studies of learning and wisdom, they make their understanding and their skill chiefly available to the service of mankind. It is therefore more serviceable to the public for a man to discourse copiously, provided it is to the purpose, than for a man to think ever so accurately without the power of expression; the reason is, because thought terminates in itself alone, but discourse affects those with whom we are connected in a community.

...Every duty therefore that operates of the good of human community and society, is preferable to that duty which is limited to speculation and knowledge. (Offices I, xliv, pp. 75-6)

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